Nikolay Kulemin is the definition of a workhorse: He does his job and he does it to a tee. The only issue is, for all the work he’s put in, he scored only 24 points in 2016-17.
In the 2014 offseason, New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow signed two free agent forwards to two four-year contracts that totaled nearly $10 million.
Three years later, one of the two players sat out a full season (with another likely on the horizon) and then was moved to the Vegas Golden Knights in an expansion deal.
The other contributed 76 points … over three seasons.
Nikolay Kulemin is a workhorse without a payday. He plays the boards well and uses his frame appropriately as a physical checker, not to mention his phenomenal two-way game: He’s an effective penalty killer and defensive piece.
Unfortunately, Kulemin frequently found himself off the score-sheet and when a player makes $4.25 million a season (as he has in 15-16 and 16-17), production is expected of them — and decent production at that.
Ballpark numbers? Call it at around 40 points a season, ideally mid 40’s.
If Kuli has been one thing during his tenure with the Islanders, it’s reliable. He’ll do exactly what’s expected of him: kill penalties, and be a defensive crux, even if his bottom-six job garners him twice the salary of other players similar to his caliber.
Despite being a mild fan-favorite, the Kulemin and Grabovski contracts are haunting the Islanders years later. With the 2017 offseason underway, general manager Garth Snow is having a hard time acquiring pieces he needs to add to his team. One big factor in that has been the salary cap, and, in particular, over-inflated contracts dished to free agents in an attempt to get them to stay with the Islanders.
It’s tough to say that he hasn’t done enough, as not much more can be expected from Kulemin.
But the simple fact is that he’s realistically been out of a job since day one of the 2016-17 season. Due to cap issues, and particularly his salary, it’s tough to move him off the roster.
Luckily for the Islanders, this will likely be the his final year in the blue and orange, unless he could be persuaded to return at less than half the initial cost.
Again, it isn’t that Kulemin doesn’t do his job well, it’s just hard to see him as a bottom-six asset when he’s making top-line dollars, and that’s something that players need to be held to.